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The new normal, tattoos in the office - Sydney Morning Herald

By Alan J. McDonald

The new normal, tattoos in the office - Sydney Morning Herald

Employees working in the corporate sector would be familiar with the growing rise of tattoos as they themselves or colleagues would be sporting them on many occasions. McDonald Murholme Senior Associate Bianca Mazzarella, comments on the need for employers to tread carefully when implementing workplace policies and to ensure they are not discriminative.

The new normal, tattoos in the workplace – Sydney Morning Herald

Tattoos are an important self-expression tool for Polly McGee. Her hands, chest, both arms, fingers and neck have been inked in bold colours. “I like bright old-school American-style pin-up girl tattoos.

“I wanted tattoos from a very young age. I’m not sure why, because no one in my family had tatts. They just appealed to me.”

And while landing a corporate role might have been a little challenging for someone with so much ink a couple of decades ago, that certainly not the case any more.

McGee works for a Sydney-based tech company. She’s always worked in senior and strategic roles for bureaucratic and conservative organisations including government, which have required her to be out in the public eye representing her employer.

Turning up to a work meeting with visible tattoos tends to disarm people, she says. “I’ve never had an employer comment in a negative way about my tats. They’re part of who I am, and I think it’s great that we see so many beautiful, visible tattoos in the workplace these days.

McGee’s a strong believer in the benefits of celebrating diversity in the workplace. “People are more than skin deep. We should never be making judgments about someone’s ability based on how they look as a society anyway.”

Less stigma at work

McGee is an example of the many Australians donning tattoos at work. Employers are far more accepting of ink than they were once upon a time, according to recruiters.

Founder of Purple Squirrel Recruitment, Anna Hodges says there’s a lot less stigma and greater normality of tattoos.

However, there are plenty of corporate industries that are less open to visible tattoos, she says. “These organisations don’t mind if you have tats, but just don’t go showing them to any clients. In my experience, the biggest the dollar value of the product or service, the less likely the company is to accept visible tattoos on customer-facing staff.”

While tats are far more of a mainstream event these days, context is everything, the general manager of Peoplebank Australia, Peter Kennedy says.

“Well-done ink may help you get a job in a hip bar, but your visible tattoos could count against you when interviewing for a customer-facing role in a more conservative organisation. And broadly speaking, tattoos that carry offensive or political statements could be considered a risk by any number of organisations,” Kennedy says.

Not so sure you want to hire someone covered in ink? Tread very carefully, warns Melbourne lawyer Bianca Mazzarella, who says employers need to be careful not to discriminate when it comes to tattoos.

An employer can implement a no-tattoo or no-visible-tattoo policy, as long as it complies with the obligations under discrimination law.

Bianca Mazzarella

It’s common practice for an employer to draft policies that regulate an employee’s dress code and appearance in the workplace. But it’s important that an employer doesn’t discriminate against a worker’s attributes such as age, sex, race and colour in the policies, the senior associate for McDonald Murholme says.

“An employer can implement a no-tattoo or no-visible-tattoo policy, as long as it complies with the obligations under discrimination law. The policy needs to be reasonable to the particular working environment and not unlawful.

“If someone has a tattoo that is linked to their ethnicity or religion and they’re discriminating against because of that reason, then they could submit a claim under the Equal Opportunity Act 2010.”

In circumstances that a tattoo doesn’t relate to religion or race, an employer can ask employees to cover up or hide the tattoo, she says.

Tattoo regret

Before racing down to the tattoo parlour, bear in mind that regret features heavily among corporate types with tattoos, who frequent central Sydney tattoo removalist parlour Detail Tattoo Removal.

Owner Andrew Chim’s  parlour books up to 80 tattoo removal sessions a week and half of those are with corporates working in the city who say they don’t feel their tattoo reflects their corporate image. It’s a substantial business; the parlour turns over $300,000 per year.

Other times, they want an ex-partner’s name removed, don’t like the design or sometimes, there’s a spelling mistake in the tat. “There’s a lot of regret. They tell us that their past doesn’t reflect where they’re going,” Chim says.

People with new jobs as flight attendants, police officers or in the armed forces also frequent his parlour. “They’re not allowed to have any visible ink.”

A female customer in her 40s came in with large tattoos on her thigh that she desperately wanted removed. She spent $16,000 having themremoved in a process that took eight sessions, Chim says. “It wasn’t one of those horror tats. But it was absolutely massive, and she just didn’t want it on her body any more.”

Chim warned against backyard tattoo removal, saying he’s seen people come in with melted skin. “The tattoo removal industry is totally unregulated. Tattoo removal hurts about as much as getting the tat in the first place, but it shouldn’t scar.”

He warns people to think very carefully before getting inked. “You should absolutely love the design before you book in to have it done. And don’t get tats on your fingers or your neck. There aren’t many corporate jobs that will accept that.”

Meanwhile, the newly released Tattoos in Australia survey of 1000 Australians who have tattoos found almost half got their first tattoo between 18 and 25 years.

Conducted by McCrindle Research and Cynosure, it also found that 30 per cent say their first tattoo was spontaneous. Two in five Australians admit their parents didn’t know about their first tattoo, and 26 per cent somewhat regret getting one or all of their tattoos. The survey was conducted in May this year.

Reference: The new normal, tattoos in the office, Sydney Morning Herald, 18th September 2017.